Summary: Cheers about the latest dead jihadist leader obscure a great truth: the War on Terror is one facet of a larger conflict. It is a clash of cultures. America is the attacker. We are winning. I see nothing that can prevent our victory. Bombs are irrelevant in this conflict, except to the people they kill.
“They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
— Speech by President Bush on 20 September 2001.
It is often difficult in human affairs to distinguish attackers from defenders, whether in a domestic dispute or a clash of civilizations. When looking at things with a narrow focus, it has one appearance. But a wider perspective sometimes reveals a different set of roles.
We attack Islam with invincible weapons
Fundamentalist Islamic regimes live under an unrelenting bombardment by a callous great power that casually and thoughtlessly destroys their society with high-tech weapons against which they have no defense. It attacks at a people’s most vulnerable point: their children, interrupting the delicate transfer of beliefs from one generation to another.
Radio, television, video games, the internet – America and the West use technology to bombard the children of Islamic societies with new ideas. Martin van Creveld describes this as “colonizing the future.”
- Their children watch our movies (and porn), play our games, and listen to our music. We show them a more attractive way of life. They learn about easy sex, the joys of booze and drugs, and freedom from patriarchal authority.
- Our values are “human rights”, which become the universal standard before which all must genuflect (to soothe foreigners feelings we pretend to believe in multiculturalism).
- Our political system, which we call “democracy”, becomes the sole legitimate regime, to which even tyrants must pay tribute via sham elections.
- Nations must adopt our economic system, which we call “capitalism”; the alternative is autarky and poverty.
- Our technology breaks the natural order of society. Contraceptives destroy cultures based on highly differentiated gender roles. Drugs and surgery break even people’s connection to their sex.
There are many vivid metaphors describing this process.
- We attack their societies like a kind of high-tech Pied Piper.
- We are like the Borg in the Star Trek universe, assimilating other cultures into our own.
- Western culture acts like a virus, with the American strain its most virulent form.
- Western culture acts as a mass meme that easily displaces traditional Islamic memes.
- In Silicon Valley they speak of “mindspace.” America exports our beliefs, filling the minds of the world’s people – displacing their native culture.
The vital centers of Middle Eastern Islamic culture – Egypt, Iraq, Iran – are adapting, albeit slowly and painfully. But what of the more fragile and rigid societies? For example, Saudi Arabia. To survive in the 21st century, their leaders must understand western methods. So they send their young men to western schools, from which most return infected with western values. They hide their vices behind the walls of their wealth, with wild weekends in Paris and Bahrain. But their people nonetheless see their corruption, and they are (more slowly) becoming infected with western beliefs and tastes. This undermines the Princes’ shallow authority and weakens the Princes’ alliance with the Wahhabi ulema – the State’s foundation.
Other poorer nations, such as Syria and Afghanistan, have different but equally intractable problems adapting to incursions of western beliefs.
Can they successfully defend against us?
Probably not. Ideas and technology have always spread irresistibly. Cultures that have walled themselves off, such as China did for centuries, suffered as a result. Modern globalization makes borders porous as communications, travel, and trade allow cultural contagions to spread rapidly across the globe. Modern technology allows foreign influences to change cultures in decades instead of over generations.
Successful foreign societies adapted their culture instead of resisting the West. Japan is one of the most successful examples of this. The city-state of Bahrain might be another example. Can traditionalist Islamic societies do this? How long until they decide to give up resistance and try adaption.
Don’t expect them to like us
We should not expect the people of other societies to like the challenges we force upon them. After all, most Americans despise some aspects of our culture. Nor will the elites of other lands obligingly die to ease their societies’ adoption of western ways, as did King Mongkut of Siam in the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King And I.
This is clearly seen by those of the West who dislike western society, such as Charles Allen. In God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad he blames Hollywood and the Left for the enmity so many Muslim people feel towards us. He believes America has polluted the world with its combination of degeneracy, pornography, and radical feminism. He sees Jihad as a natural if regrettable response.
An early version of this belief is described in “Sayyid Qutb in America” by John Calvert in the March 2001 issue of ISIM Review, the newsletter of the International Institute for the Study of Islam.
“The impact of western culture on Islam was clearly foreseen by Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian intellectual and Islamist (1906 – 1966) when studying in 1949 at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley, Colorado. Established as a utopian community in 1870, the city proudly maintained in the 1940’s the moral rigour, temperance, and civil-mindedness that were the hallmarks of its founding fathers. Greeley’s highly touted civic virtue, however, made very little impression on Qutb. In his mind, the inhabitants of Greeley, far from representing a kinder and gentler population of Americans, carried within themselves the same moral flaws of materialism and degeneracy that were characteristic of Occidental civilization in general.
“He recounted how he once attended a church dance and was scandalized by the occasion’s ‘seductive atmosphere’. As Qutb wrote, ‘the dancing intensified,’ and the ‘hall swarmed with legs’. …Qutb’s American writings are laced with such anecdotes, which reveal a strong concern with moral issues, especially concerning matters of sexuality.”
For more about the spread of this insight, see Brynjar Lia’s Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al-Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri (2008). Or read the summary in “Laptop Jihadi” by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books.
For a more analytical perspective on this see Samuel P. Huntington’s seminal article “The clash of civilizations?“ in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, later expanded into The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Who is at fault for this conflict? America or them?
Please consult a priest or philosopher for answers to such questions. Here we discuss what was, what is, and what might be. More importantly, neither Mother Nature nor Mistress Clio (the muse of history) cares about blame. Nor should we. Instead, let’s have empathy for those whose cultures we threaten – and probably will irrevocably change. No matter if we disagree with their values, we can understand and sympathize with their anguish about the loss of their traditions.
Perhaps empathy can prove more effective than bombs in helping these societies join the 21st century. It will certainly be cheaper than invading and occupying them, in both blood and money.
We need a defensive strategy for America
“As we shall show, defense is a stronger form of fighting than attack. …I am convinced that the superiority of the defensive (if rightly understood) is very great, far greater than appears at first sight ….”
— From Clausewitz’s On War, Book 1, Chapter 1.
But what about terrorists? Our offensive strategy has set the Middle East on fire, breeding hordes of new Islamic warriors (fortunately, staying at home to fight – not coming to America). Let’s try a defensive strategy.
- The Cult of the offense returns: why we’re losing the long war, & how to win.
- How America can survive – even prosper – in the 21st century: a defensive strategy.
- Why we lose wars so often. How we can win in the future.
- Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.
- America again needs a militia for defense.
Also, see William Lind’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” (November 2004).